United Breaks guitars

Tune up: airline instrument policies

Thanks to a YouTube video that’s gone viral, millions of people around the world now know that in March 2008, United Airlines baggage handlers broke Dave Carroll’s guitar. Instead of just admitting it and paying for the repairs, the airline kept telling the musician to go away.

He didn’t.  He made a video and the rest, as they say, is music and social media history.  United Airlines changed its tune, promised to do better in the future and, when Carroll refused compensation, donated $3,000 to non-profit music foundation in his name.

Does that mean United and other airlines now won’t break anyone’s guitar? Don’t count on it.  But now everyone is paying more attention to how instruments on airplanes are handled.

Want to make sure your instrument arrives safely? Here’s a video and some tips from the folks at Taylor Guitars and the American Federation of Musicians:

  • Know your airline’s policy on transporting instruments. Look it up on the airline’s Web site, print it out and take it with you. “Many flight attendants do not know their own airline’s policy regarding carry-on guitars. If you can calmly explain that your instrument is within their mandated guidelines, and actually show them those guidelines, you will be way ahead of the game.”
  • Each airline has a maximize size for carry-on items, measured by linear inches. On many airlines, including Continental, American, and United, the limit is 45 linear inches.  So know your instrument’s size in linear inches.  That’s the sum of the length, width and height of your travel case.  “In many cases, even though your instrument case does not fit in the ‘size wise’ metal contraption at the gate, it might still be within the linear-inch maximum.”
  • Carry a fabric tape measure with you.  It can come in handy if you’re challenged about your dimensions of your instrument case.

For more on this topic, see my Well Mannered Traveler column on MSNBC.com: Get in tune with your airline’s instrument policy.